Lymphedema Risk and Oncology Massage

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A Few Lymphedema Basics

Lymphedema is a condition that can occur at any time after cancer treatment, even many years later. It impairs normal drainage of fluid through the lymphatic system, causing swelling. American lymphedema educator, Joachim Zuther, defines lymphedema as “protein-rich edema.” The backed-up fluid contains not only the watery component but also excess protein, bacteria, virus, and cellular debris. Usually the excess fluid accumulates in one or more limbs.

Certain cancer treatments can create a disruption in the lymphatic system, which puts a person at risk for developing lymphedema months to years afterwards. The most common causes are radiation to or surgical removal of lymph nodes from the neck, armpit, or groin. The combination of surgery and radiation increases the risk. There are no solid statistics indicating how many patients develop lymphedema. The numbers range from as low as 5% to as a high as 55%.